December 6, 2013

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Article

Head of the Class

Professional Development Keeps Employees’ Skills Sharp and their Minds Engaged

By Rachel Madison | Illustration by Mike Bohman

December 6, 2013

Costs vs. Benefits

Osborne says it takes around $3,000 to train a new employee. “For a lot less than that, a company can provide professional development to a current employee,” she says. “The bottom line is profitability increases and expenses are lowered.”

Tidwell says the costs of professional development can be quantified easily with the price of different classes and conferences that employees attend, “but the benefit to attending professional development opportunities is harder to quantify because it brings major rewards for businesses through employees that are engaged and learning about the latest methodologies.”

In addition, Mabey says networking opportunities employees have are priceless. “As you get to know people in a group, you can ask questions about problems and they can help you because they’ve experienced it. That knowledge base alone is an untapped treasure.”

Chet Linton, CEO of School Improvement Network, an organization that focuses on professional development for educators, says skills employees gain are also invaluable. “We’re now in a skills-based economy,” he says. “What we used to value, the expert who has all the knowledge and degrees, has changed. The key now becomes the skills.”

Return on Investment

Overall, Mabey says it’s up to each employee to want to be better at their job. The return on investment can be monumental for both companies and employees, as long as employees want to learn. “There are so many opportunities out there, but you’ve really got to love what you do,” he says. “If you enjoy what you do then you’re going to want to learn and want to improve your skills.”

For Tidwell, development is a key word. Companies have to be willing to continue developing their employees in order to succeed. “It comes down to what you’re willing to invest in your people. If you’re willing to develop them, the way to do that is through professional development. You’ll have successful people and a successful business.” 

Disruptive Innovation or Massive Overhype?

A new type of continuing education has recently started to gain traction across the United States, but is still fairly foreign to Utahns. Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, are online courses that are free, open to anyone and accessible through the web, but do not provide college credit. Some local universities, such as the University of Utah and Utah State University, as well as companies like Instructure, have recently started their own MOOCs.

Alexis Palmer, senior director of community and continuing education at Utah Valley University, says UVU offers one MOOC on math. “The class is not meant to assess skills or give in-depth information,” she says. “It’s a refresher for non-traditional students coming back to school before they get to those actual college math classes.”

Palmer says there’s a lot of controversy surrounding MOOCs because there is no college credit or certification given. “The big question right now is, ‘How do businesses value MOOCs?’” she says. “It will be interesting to see where it goes. It’s hard to determine how the industry will view MOOCs in the future.”

Anne O’Brien, assistant dean of programs for continuing education at the University of Utah, says MOOCs initially started at ivy-league schools such as Harvard and MIT with the philosophy that anyone could participate to gain knowledge from the schools’ professors. “This whole idea is still evolving,” she says. “It’s this new thing, and new things don’t happen in higher education as far as changing the model that much.”

Because the courses are free and not credit based, only about 20 percent of people who enroll in the courses actually finish, O’Brien says. Students are expected to do homework and participate regularly.

“Organizations and universities are trying to figure out how they can provide credit for [MOOCs],” she says. “That’s a ways off from the university perspective, but a lot of private sectors and tech companies are trying to figure out how to benefit from them right now.”

O’Brien says MOOCs are more or less used to provide students with awareness about classes that are available to them. “It’s more of a marketing strategy than anything,” she says. “It costs around $65,000 to run one MOOC course. It’s really expensive for an organization to do it.”

Most people who enroll in MOOCs are simply there to learn, O’Brien says. “Through MOOCs, people can learn in a structured environment. People don’t go into a MOOC thinking they want college credit. Most people who participate already have a degree.”

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